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The Lady of the Castle
She was the Lady of the Castle, and she was lovely. With long, cloud-like golden hair, sky-blue eyes, and a laughing, rosebud mouth, she was truly one of the most glorious beings ever to be encountered.
Now, this Lady had a castle, and it was quite nearly as glorious as the Lady herself. It was so full of secret passageways, hiding places, old treasure chests, pianos, books, costumes, and other delightful things that it was practically suffocating.
Unfortunately, in the place where the Lady lived, the grownups were all rather silly and told all their children that they must not go near the Lady’s castle; not for fear that anything exciting would happen, such as getting kidnapped or meeting a ghost, but for fear that a child would fall down somewhere and scrape their knees.
It was quite sad.
Now, the Lady loved children; quite possibly she loved them more than anything else in the whole world, which is saying quite a lot, since she had such a lovely and splendid castle. But she never got to see any children, because they were all instructed so very carefully to stay away from the Lady’s castle.
Not many people believed that there was such a person as the Lady living in the castle; I am sure no grownup ever did. Even a lot of the village children didn’t believe it.
But there was one child that believed a great deal. Her name was Lucy.
Lucy had an older sister named Evelyn and two younger siblings, Peter and Adelaide. Lucy was, to put it simply, “a tornado”. Being very adventurous and brave, she naturally wished to venture to the castle.
Evelyn was not in favor of this. She said that their mother wouldn’t approve.
But Lucy, being headstrong as well as adventurous, convinced all three of the others to follow her; and off they went to explore the castle.
Naturally, as weathered and wise explorers, they brought Provisions (which are, as anyone knows, things to eat). Adelaide was elected unanimously to carry the little satchel of bread and cheese and water. Lucy, being the sort of leader of the Expotition, led them all, with Adelaide close on her heels and Evelyn not far behind. Peter elected to stay at the end of the line “to protect them”, he said. None of the girls complained.
Eventually, after a long and harrowing journey, which I will not recount, they reached the Castle. They stood in the garden hedge, which was in a sort of a maze, and tried to figure out which way to go to get to the actual castle doors.
It looked doomful.
“Ooohh! I don’t think we should do this, Lucy!” Adelaide shivered.
“Silly!” Lucy scolded. “Don’t be silly.” They were whispering. “If you want, you can go back,” she added, scoffing.
“No, I want to come!” Adelaide returned, re-slinging the satchel over her shoulder emphatically.
“C’mon, let’s go.” Peter forged on ahead, not voicing his opinion, boy-like.
“Yes, let’s,” Evelyn agreed. She was holding the book she’d brought along protectively to her chest.
“Right, right,” Lucy muttered. “Eh, Pete, wait up!” She called, still in a whisper.
Trying to get through the maze was an adventure. Lucy chased Peter (Adelaide and Evelyn quickly joining in) until she caught him; and by that time they were deep in the maze. The part of the hedge they were in was very high and none of them, since they were all short, could see over the hedge.
“I’m starting to get a bad feeling about this,” Peter said in his blunt, practical way.
“Nonsense,” Lucy said, as Evelyn pulled a wandering Adelaide out of a bush. “It’s all going to be quite all right. Now, the question is, should we split up and go in separate directions so –?”
Her question was met with a roar of disapproval, and so she quickly abandoned that idea…until she thought of something. “Ha!” She cried.
“What?” said everyone else.
“I have a bit of string!” She flourished it triumphantly. “We shall each take a little bit and go as far as we can while leaving it on the ground behind us so that we can come back to this spot!”
Well, they didn’t use that idea exactly, but Evelyn pointed out that they could probably pick the green leaves off the bushes and leave them on the ground and they wouldn’t be blown away.
Lucy cheerfully agreed that this was a “simply smashing” idea and it was soon done.
Adelaide, however, being only five and rather easily intimidated, insisted that she must go with someone and so elected to stay with Evelyn.
Lucy, at this, said, “Should I pair up with Pete, then?” But she looked dubious as she said it. She rather liked “lone adventures” (even though she did love her brother and sisters).
Evelyn said no, and that it was quite all right if Peter wanted to go on his own, which, of course, he did, and so they all set off in opposite directions.
Now, as is customary in many stories, the main character (which is Lucy) ran afoul of great adventure on her undertaking. She discovered the Lady.
Lucy, you see, reached the steps of the castle without mishap. She thought about calling the others and telling them she’d found the way out of the maze; but she decided against it. She rather enjoyed keeping a secret, and she had a selfish desire to explore the castle on her own, anyway.
So she crept up to the door (it was huge), and, trembling, knocked cautiously on its wooden, vine-inscribed surface. But no sooner had she laid a hand on it, knocking, than it swung silently open of its own accord.
Tiptoeing, slightly nervous, she walked into the castle. She heard faint strains of piano and a lovely, silvery, high voice as she walked into the hall (which was decorated with silver candlesticks and portraits of lovely ladies).
Curious, she headed in the direction of the music and was greatly rewarded as she came into a parlour. Here is what she saw:
Walls painted a very, very light shade of green; so light it was almost white; silver candlesticks; a portrait of a lady on the mantel of the emerald-inlaid fireplace; a silver clock; and an ancient piano. And sitting at the piano, with her back facing Lucy, was the Lady.
Lucy’s first impulse, upon seeing the Lady, was to turn and run. But curiosity won over once again.
On tiptoes, she walked over to the piano and stood behind the Lady, so silently that the Lady did not hear her, but went on singing.
“Did you not hear my lady
Go down the garden singing
Blackbird and thrush were silent
To hear the alleys ringing…”
Lucy was entranced. The Lady was as beautiful as her voice. Let me tell you what Lucy thought of the Lady’s looks:
She looks like the Queen of Ice. Yet she seems to be full of light; brighter than the sun. Ooohh! – I wish my hair were that colour…like a river of gold! Silvery gold. Her skin is so white! I don’t believe I’ve ever seen skin that white before. How beautiful it is! – and her voice sounds just like her…cold and yet full of sunlight. Rather remote, but so close.
Then the Lady finished her song,
“But surely you see my lady
out in the garden there.
Rivaling the glittering sunshine
with her glory of golden hair.”
She closed the piano softly and turned around. “Hello,” she said to Lucy, quite as though they were old friends and there was nothing surprising whatsoever about Lucy standing there.
But Lucy was speechless. The Lady was by far the most beautiful thing she’d ever laid eyes on. One look at her, and you felt as though you could go on looking forever, and you never saw anything that quite compared to her again.
“He-hello,” Lucy replied shyly. “You-you’re very beautiful.” She couldn’t help saying it, and although some might consider it a breach of etiquette, I don’t believe even the properest of personages could have kept from saying it.
The Lady laughed: and her laugh was silvery and it sort of bubbled, the way a river does: merrily, naturally, effortlessly. “Thank you,” she said simply, and then said, “Shall we go to my attic? There’re ever so many things up there, and –”
“But you don’t even know me!” Lucy blurted before she thought; then she blushed. “I’m sorry, truly I am, I just…”
“No, it’s quite all right,” the Lady said gaily; “besides, we should wait for your brother and sisters, shouldn’t we?” She smiled and trailed her hands over the keys while Lucy stood, speechless. “Do you sing?” The Lady inquired at length. “Or play?”
“I – yes, I do.” Lucy replied. “Not well, though,” she added. The Lady smiled and stood up. “Will you sing for me, then? Please do say yes.”
Lucy found herself nodding, and then she sat down at the piano. “What shall I play?” She asked.
“Anything you like,” the Lady said.
“All right, then,” Lucy said, and began to play “Ave Maria”. Her voice soared with the freedom and lightness of a bird’s; though it was nothing compared to the Lady’s.
When she finished the last notes, they heard a knock at the door. “That will be Evelyn,” the Lady said, smiling.
Lucy nodded dumbly, the notes still hanging about her like a curtain she hadn’t yet shoved aside.
“You sing exceptionally well,” the Lady added, just as Evelyn walked into the room, leading Adelaide by the hand.
Lucy blushed. “Thank you,” she said. Then, addressing the others, “Where’s Peter?”
“He’s coming –” Evelyn began; but was interrupted by the door swinging open and a voice saying, “I say, girls, this castle is something like! I – oh, hullo!”
He caught sight of the Lady and sort of half-whistled, but low, not disrespectfully; more like an art collector who sees a real Da Vinci.
Then he stuck his hands in his pockets, boy-like, and nodded, and said, “How’d you?” and looked about the room.
“Would you like to see my attic?” The Lady asked them. “I’ve got ever so many things up there…treasure chests and guns that really shoot, and a great many dresses and – ”
But the children were already coming closer before she said any more. “Please, let’s go!” They said.
“All right, then,” she said, and so they all went up to the attic. It was rather spooky, with a long, winding staircase and cobwebs and old torches and candles lighting the way: this was “just about right,” according to Peter, who was not at all fazed by it, but was rather enjoying it.
When they reached the attic, they saw that the Lady had been telling the truth. As they entered the attic (through a very secret door and passageway) they all uttered a long and gratified “ooo-oohhh!” simultaneously.
After getting over their initial shock, they headed towards what they liked best: Peter to the guns, Lucy to the swords, Evelyn to the books, and Adelaide to the dresses. Very soon, however, after many squealable discoveries, it was growing to be evening, and they must go home.
The next day, they found a notice tacked to the castle door which read:
“The Lady of the Castle is currently staying with some friends in Venice, Italy, and after that will travel to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. In the meanwhile, enjoy the gardens and castle.”
And so the children spent that day exploring the grounds on their own. But a week later, the Lady returned, bringing all sorts of mysterious trunks and things with her, which she distributed to the children.
After that, the rest of the village children grew so jealous that they all decided that they must meet the Lady, too; and so it became a regular thing for the Lady to host teas and things for the grownups and let the village children run all over the grounds.
Nobody was ever happier than the Lady and the four children.